Knowing What Really Matters
Obedience, Fulfillment, Sacrifice
If you were Jesus and you had recently raised Lazarus from the dead and then had been welcomed by throngs of people into Jerusalem, how would you spend your next day or two?
We would probably spend the next couple of days re-living the “rush” of those experiences. We would find ourselves saying,
“Did you see the look on the face of those Pharisees?”
“Could you believe how many people were out on the road?”
“Did you hear what that one lady shouted?”
“Did you see the child that came to greet me?”
“Did you see the tears in the eyes of that man?”
We hate to admit it, but I think we would have wanted to re-live that moment for as long as we could.
Of course, this tendency is the very thing that hinders us in our Christian growth. We spend our lives re-living the past victories and soon grow stagnant in our faith. All our conversations seem to drift back to what happened years ago.
Look at how differently Jesus responded.
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
27 “Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him. [John 12:20-29]
The setting is soon after the Triumphal Entry. It is possible that this was the next day, a Monday. Possibly it was after Jesus had gone into the temple and cast out the moneychangers from the court of the Gentiles. Jesus was at the height of His popularity. Anticipation was in the air. Everyone could feel that something was going to happen.
We are told that some Greek (non-Jewish) men wanted to meet Jesus. These men were most likely God-fearers which means they were interested in the Jewish faith. Our text says they had come up to worship at the feast (Passover).
Most likely they turned to Philip because of his Greek name and the fact that Philip was from Bethsaida, an area with a more Greek culture. These men wanted to “see Jesus”.
Have you ever asked someone, “Hey, could you introduce me to so-and-so?” Maybe you have asked someone to introduce you to a musician, a writer, an athlete, a politician or some other person of influence (perhaps in your field of interest). Perhaps it was someone you found yourself strangely attracted to. When we ask for such an introduction we are hoping to make a connection with the person; to gain a personal audience. By being close to someone significant, we feel more significant ourselves.
It’s possible that this is what these Greek men were looking for. Maybe they wanted to extend an invitation for Jesus to come speak in their hometown. Or maybe they saw the growing hatred of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus and thought they might offer Him an escape. Maybe they wanted a chance to ask Jesus their questions about the life He talked about. We don’t know what they wanted.
Philip probably wasn’t too sure about whether he should bring these men to Jesus or not. Jesus was a busy guy. It was Jesus who told the disciples that His job was primarily to go to the house of Israel. So, Philip went and talked to Andrew. After talking it over, they decided to bring the request to Jesus.
What Jesus says next seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the request of the Greeks. Jesus says,
23 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Is Jesus saying, “I don’t have time to meet these guys?” or is He saying, “The very fact that the Gentiles are coming to me indicates that the fulfillment of my mission is at hand?” Jesus began his life with Gentiles coming to see Him (in the wise men) and now perhaps the visit of these Greeks signaled the end of His life. It is also possible that in the request of the Gentiles Jesus is seeing the beginning of the fulfillment of His purpose in life. His goal was to draw all men to salvation and now the Gentiles were seeking the life that He had to give. Perhaps Jesus was saying, “If they want to really see me, hang around for a few days because then you will really see who I am.”
I don’t know for sure what Jesus was thinking. I don’t know if the Gentiles ever got to meet Him. However, what we do learn is that Jesus was looking beyond the present circumstances to something greater.
JESUS LIVED BEYOND THE MOMENT
The adulation of a crowd is intoxicating. It is incredible to me that Jesus was not at all distracted by the hoopla surrounding His entry into Jerusalem. He knew exactly why He was there. His mission was clear in His mind. He was looking beyond the crowds, to the cross.
Do you see how different this is from our lives? Do you ever feel like life is out of control? There are so many things going on, so many responsibilities to fulfill, so many experiences to have, that we sometimes feel that we are being helplessly swept through life by a current that is beyond our control. There is this constant need to do as much as we can lest we “miss something”. We are so busy living for the moment that we cannot see beyond today.
This happens even to religious people. We have meetings to attend, jobs to do, information to master, seminars to absorb and so much more. I find myself at times overwhelmed by the stack of books I need to read, the volume of material that I feel I need to master, or the myriad of needs that need to be met in others.
As you discuss spiritual things with people around you, you find that there are people from all kinds of different backgrounds and beliefs. We find ourselves torn, confused, and exhausted. We end up with some kind of hybrid God that we sense isn’t real but it’s all we have.
Jesus knew what His mission was. His purpose was to give His life as a sacrifice for sin. He knew that this His job was an act that would change the world. Nothing was going to distract Him . . . not even the crowds cheering for Him.
But what is our “thing”? What is it that we are supposed to be doing? That’s the big question isn’t it? The Westminster Confession of Faith states the chief purpose of man is: “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The Bible tells us that we are to “Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and we are also to love our neighbor like we love ourselves.”
Of course, how that plays out in your life and mine may be entirely different. But don’t miss an important point. Our chief goal in life is not to make a name for ourselves; it is not to amass more stuff than the other guy; it is not to be involved in more stuff than others, it is not to run faster than the others guy, and it is not to build the largest religious organization. Our goal is to honor and love the Lord and to live in accordance with His truth.
OBEDIENCE IS THE WAY TO FULFILLMENT
When we hear about “living for the glory of God” it frankly sounds a little boring. We think it means having to be religious clones that are against anything enjoyable in life. Jesus had a different view. He looked at his death and said it was the time when he would be glorified. Obedience to God’s direction is not a hindrance to life; it is the doorway to life.
When we are young our parents told us that we should save our money for a rainy day. They told us that a willingness to sacrifice now would result in a greater blessing later. If we passed on buying candy now, we would be able to buy a bicycle later. If we resisted the urge to buy fancy things now we would be able to afford a car when it came time to drive. If we were willing to be content with what we had we would have the resources to buy that home we’ve always wanted. If we were careful in our spending now, we would be able to enjoy our retirement years later.
The goal was simple: keep in mind the big picture. Present labor and effort was not a burden, it was an investment. Paul expressed this idea well when we said, “For me, to live is Christ, to die is gain.” In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul said,
We are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. [2 Corinthians 5:6-10]
Living for the Lord is not a burden we have to bear: it is the doorway to the life we truly desire. Sure, reading the Bible, prayer, worship, study, and service don’t seem to be a desirable course for our lives. But when we understand that these things lead to intimacy with God, true peace, an other-worldly joy, and ultimately life eternal, the price tag doesn’t seem to be too steep at all.
REALITY CHECK: THE WAY OF OBEDIENCE REQUIRES SACRIFICE
If you read advertisements or watch commercials you will see all kinds of things that are marketed as shortcuts to a better life. There are pills to help you lose weight. There are machines that can allow you to get in shape with just a five- minute workout. There are groups that will send you tasty meals that will allow you to eat right. There are books to teach you shortcuts to investing. Courses to teach you how to make money in Real Estate. The list goes on an on. The idea is simple: there is an easier way.
Jesus seems to say that there is no shortcut to serving the Lord. It is an all or nothing proposition. You must follow Him with everything you have or you are not really following Him at all.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
As I understand it, there are three different uses for the kernel of wheat, 1) it can be stored and sold on the market. 2) it can be ground up and eaten. 3) it can be buried in the ground to await a future harvest. The farmer takes some of these kernels and buries them in the ground. They put aside the present use they could make of their profits and they invest in a future day.
So it is with our human lives. We can consume our lives in our own present gratification and profit, or we can put aside the present enjoyments and profits, and devote ourselves to live to the Lord in the confidence of a future harvest. One author puts it well,
In the one case you make an end of your life, you consume it as it goes; no good results, no enlarging influence, no deepening of character, no fuller life, follows from such an expenditure of life — spent on yourself and on the present, it terminates with yourself and with the present. But in the other ease you find that you have entered into a more abundant life; by living for others your interests are widened, your desire for life increased, the results and ends of life enriched. “He that loves his life shall lose it; and he that hates his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” It is a law we cannot evade. He that consumes his life now, spending it on himself — he who cannot bear to let his life out of his own hand, but cherishes and pampers it and gathers all good around it, and will have the fullest present enjoyment out of it, —this man is losing his life; it comes to an end as certainly as the seed that is eaten. But he who devotes his life to other uses than his own gratification, who does not so prize self that everything must minister to its comfort and advancement, but who can truly yield himself to God and put himself at God’s disposal for the general good, — this man, though he may often seem to lose his life, and often does lose it so far as present advantage goes, keeps it to life everlasting. [Biblical Expositor p. 226-227]
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. [Luke 9:23,24]
This “taking up our cross” is not just “bearing our burdens”, it is a willingness to follow Jesus even to death. To deny ourselves means to put God’s desires above our own. This means there will be times when doing what God wants won’t be the most convenient option. At times it will call for us to sacrifice some other things we might like to do. We are to do so because we see the bigger picture. We understand that the present sacrifice is a an investment in a future blessing.
What would have happened if Jesus had clung to the spotlight of the moment? What if He had given in to the cries of the crowd and sought for Himself an earthly Kingdom? Jesus may have enjoyed a period of status in the world, but we would be lost forever.
Jesus made the impact in the world that He did, because He was willing to follow the Lord’s plan. He was willing to take the “road less traveled”. Because of this fact, every knee shall bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Every day, moment-by-moment, we are left with a decision: do I live for the moment or do I invest in the future harvest?
May I pry a little? Is it possible that there is something that God wants you to do right now? Maybe he wants you to care for someone who is hurting even though it will be inconvenient; maybe he wants you to teach a class even though it is outside of your comfort zone; maybe he is asking you to serve in a ministry in some capacity that will involve some of your precious free time. Perhaps God is asking you to get free of some commitments so you can be committed to what is better. Perhaps God is simply asking you to make time for Him in a daily study of the Bible, daily prayer, and weekly worship. Yes, you have other things to do. The question is: do you really have better things to do?
There is no promise that following the way of Christ will be easy; only the promise that it will be worth it in the end. So we are left with a choice: do we spend our life on the present or do we invest it for the future? Do we bask in the moment or do we keep focused on a greater goal? Jesus made His choice. Now we must make our choices.